Today Americans are gearing up for barbecues, picnics, and outdoor celebrations. While enjoying the festivities and indulging in delicious grilled meats, fresh salads, and other holiday treats, paying attention to food safety is crucial, especially when dealing with leftovers. This week’s hot temperatures across the country require an extra layer of caution to ensure food safety.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture emphasizes handling leftovers properly to prevent foodborne illnesses. 

Here are some essential food safety tips to keep in mind:

The two-hour rule

  • General rule: All perishable items should be refrigerated within two hours of being taken out of the oven or refrigerator.
  • Hot weather adjustments: If you are outdoors and the temperature reaches 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, the time limit decreases to one hour.
  • Danger zone: After one or two hours, perishable food enters the Danger Zone, which is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In this range, bacteria can multiply rapidly, posing a significant risk to food safety.
  • Action step: If any foods have been left out for more than two hours, discard them to prevent foodborne illnesses. When in doubt, throw it out.

Use small and shallow containers

  • Storage tip: Opt for small and shallow containers when storing leftover food in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Benefits: These containers facilitate faster cooling compared to larger ones, reducing the time in which bacteria can grow.

Freeze or consume within four days

  • Freezing guidelines: If you intend to keep your leftovers for an extended period, freeze them within four days.
  • Preventing bacteria growth: Freezing food prevents the growth of most food poisoning bacteria, with exceptions like Listeria and Hepatitis A.
  • Quality considerations: The quality of frozen leftovers may deteriorate over time. Consume them within two to six months for optimal taste and texture.
  • Reheating temperature: When reheating leftovers, ensure they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to eliminate any potential bacteria.

Proper reheating guidelines

  • Microwave reheating:
    • Cover and rotate the food for even heating.
    • Arrange food items evenly in a covered microwave-safe glass or ceramic dish and add some liquid if necessary.
    • Check the internal temperature of the food in multiple places using a food thermometer after allowing it to rest.
  • Reheating sauces, soups and gravies:
    • Bring them to a rolling boil to ensure the entire mixture reaches a safe temperature.
  • Avoid slow cookers for reheating:
    • Slow cookers are not suitable for reheating leftovers. Opt for methods such as stovetop, microwave, or oven reheating to ensure the food reaches the recommended internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Additional safety measures

If you have any food safety questions, the USDA offers several resources:

  • Call: USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).
  • Email:
  • Live Chat: Visit from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.

By adhering to these guidelines, you can enjoy your Fourth of July celebrations with peace of mind, knowing that your leftovers will be safe to eat. Happy Independence Day!

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